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Why Earn an Optometry Degree?
A degree in optometry prepares individuals for a career in eye care. A program in optometry will educate individuals in multiple sciences, and teach them to use those sciences to identify problems within the eye and assist in their remedy. Individuals must obtain a Doctor of Optometry (O.D.) in order to function as an optometrist. Entry into an O.D. program requires a decent score on the Optometry Admissions Examination (O.A.T.) and at least three years of post-secondary education. Most students will complete a bachelor's degree prior to applying to an optometry school. Obtaining a doctor of optometry typically requires four years of study.
Top Optometry Degrees
Students seeking to enter the field of optometry will need to obtain a graduate degree. Graduate degrees in optometry include a number of programs with differing objectives and outcomes. The degree programs below provide prospective students with an overview of the degree options. Investing the time today to learn more about each program will help put you on the right path and set you up for success. Degree tracks optometry include the following options:
Four-Year OD Degree
The 4-year degree program in optometry is conferred as a Doctor of Optometry known as a OD. An OD degree is designed for qualifying students in an effort to streamline the degree process. Students will gain strong foundational knowledge in visual science along with clinical and biomedical sciences. OD programs are broken down into segments with the first three years spend in class, labs, seminars, and clinics. Classes include a variation of: anatomy and physiology, ocular anatomy, cellular biology, clinical reasoning, color vision, ocular disease principles, neuroanatomy, optics, visual sensation, vision health care, vision perception, and advanced optometry. The final year of the 4-year OD program is spent in clinical rotations. Most schools require students to alternate between primary care, advanced care, and specialty care clinics. Variety and exposure to each clinic type will help prepare students for variations in the workplace.
Accelerated Optometric Degree
An accelerated optometric degree track is a 2-year program created for working professionals or students that already hold a MD or PhD in medicine or science. Coursework is intense and science-rich that prepares professionals for a career in optometry. Accelerated degrees in optometry are almost exclusively full-time programs with the demanding coursework and schedule of the program. At the conclusion of the coursework and clinical rotations, students will be prepared to enter the field of optometry in a clinical, educational, or research capacity.
Master’s in Vision Science
A Master of Vision Science degree is conferred as a MS degree. Master of Vision Science is an alternative to the 4-year OD program. MS degrees are typically completed in 2-years for qualified students. Generally the master in vision science will blend graduate-level courses with lectures, seminars, research projects, and a thesis. Fusing problem-solving skills with analytical thinking is a requirement of students to be successful. Core classes in the MS program will generally include: optics, advanced visual sensation, cell biology, visual perception, histology, ocular anatomy, research and biostatistics, advanced imaging, eye growth, myopia, development of vision, visual neurophysiology, and emmetropization.
MS/OD Dual Degree
Dual degrees are available at select colleges and universities. Master of Vision Science and Doctor of Optometry is a dual degree for students who want to enter the master’s program and study to earn an OD. Typically the MS/OD dual degree program can be completed in 4-years with modifications to the four-year program. Core curriculum overlaps between the MS and OD programs including labs, seminars, research, and thesis projects. Classes will include very similar classes to the OD and MS tracks such as biostatistics, cell biology, optics, advanced imaging, and similar courses.
PhD/OD Dual Degree
The PhD and OD dual degree program is a unique program in the field of optometry. Conceptually, the degree blends the requirements of a OD degree with requisite curriculum of a post-master’s degree in optometry. In the first three years of the PhD/OD dual degree program, students will follow the OD degree track. The fourth and final year of the degree will focus on post-master’s PhD classes. Areas of emphasis in the PhD program can include: pathology, pharmacology, physiology, anatomy, behavioral neuroscience, biochemistry, biophysics, biomedical neuroscience, genetics, microbiology, immunology, molecular medicine, or translational medicine.
Employment Opportunities in Optometry
A career in optometry requires individuals to gauge the strength of their patients' vision, provide care, and check for ocular diseases that may occur. For some, a career can result in specialization, providing eye care for a particular group, such as patients with low vision, post-operative care, or children. Optometrists may also pursue careers in research and development. Most optometrists own their own practice, while others may find employment with large businesses or in treatment centers.
All states require optometrists to be licensed, which involves passing marks on the National Boards in Optometry and a doctor of optometry degree. Some states may issue an additional examination, and many states will require continuing education courses in order to maintain their license.
Job Outlook and Career Outlook for Optometrists
Job growth in optometry is expected to increase very rapidly compared to other jobs, but will have only a small number of new jobs due to the low number of optometrists in general. The demand for optometrists is expected to increase due to an aging population of baby boomers. The average salary for optometrists is approximately $95,000 per year. Individuals interested in optometry may also wish to consider ophthalmology technician (OT) or dispensing optician. Additionally, the AOA and the NOA provide trade-specific resources and research publications to member optometrists around the country.